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|We need to talk about Quiller|
|Posted By: Stephen Woolston on July 23, 2012 - 9:00 PM|
Two weeks ago, Intrada released a long-overdue reissue of a classic 1960s John Barry score — The Quiller Memorandum. To celebrate, I suggested to Geoff Leonard that we write a thorough article containing Geoff's research into the facts and figures behind the film and score, the film itself and finally some critical appreciation of the score and a commentary on the album tracks.
Geoff and Pete Walker very kindly wrote up the background material and then I finished off with the track commentary.
The Quiller Memorandum
The mid-60s turned out to be a vintage era for espionage throughout all facets of the media: film, literature and television most noticeably. The chilling cold war climate that emerged as a consequence of the fractious political instability emanating from the aftermath of the Second World War provided the arts with a rich seam of material from which to draw on.
In 1965, Trevor Dudley-Smith, who hitherto wrote under the pseudonym Elleston Trevor (amongst others) used the nom de plume, Adam Hall, for only the second time to launch a series of novels featuring his own post-war protagonist, secret agent ‘Quiller’ (named in honour of the author, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch). The first of his nineteen novels featuring this character was published by Cape in the UK as The Berlin Memorandum, but when published in America, it was re-titled The Quiller Memorandum — the title that was used for the subsequent film adaptation and the one for which the book became better known. On publication, it proved to be a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic after having become a coveted Book Society choice in Britain and Book-of-the-Month Club choice in the United States. It was also serialised in the British press. As a mark of recognition, the Mystery Writers of America awarded Hall its 1965 Edgar Allan Poe Award.
The film was shot mainly in West Berlin and completed at Pinewood Studios, England. Ivan Foxwell’s production starred George Segal, Alec Guinness, Max von Sydow, Senta Berger, George Sanders and Robert Helpmann. The film was directed by Michael Anderson from a screenplay by Harold Pinter, and was distributed throughout the world by the Rank Organisation and Twentieth Century-Fox.
Producer Foxwell chose Senta Berger after he saw her play a small role in The Victors. “I thought she had great quality. I thought of her early on when I started casting, because I wanted a German speaking girl who was not too well-known but who, given the right opportunity, could hit the jackpot.”
He also explained why he picked George Segal. “I'm looking ahead. The Quiller Memorandum is a big picture — one that needs an up-and-coming leading man — a man who is going to be bigger and bigger rather than a man who is a star or who has been a star who might begin to lose brilliance. I was shown secretly a reel of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when I was in Hollywood this year and it was showing George Segal. Before the reel was finished I knew George was my man for Quiller."
As for the supporting cast, Foxwell said he didn't think one had to enlarge on one’s reasons for casting people of the calibre of Alec Guinness … or for that matter Max von Sydow, Robert Helpmann and George Sanders.
Two top Agents are dead: both victims of a ruthless neo-Nazi organisation operating from an unknown base in Berlin. The mission, now urgent, is assigned to Quiller (George Segal), whose instructions from Pol (Sir Alec Guinness), Head of Berlin Control, are straightforward enough: to locate the Nazi base.
A fragment of information from his cover man Hengel (Peter Carsten) leads Quiller to a school where one of its teachers has recently committed suicide by hanging. He had been a notorious, high-level Nazi — wanted for war crimes. In the guise of a journalist, Quiller decides to meet the headmistress of the school (Edith Schneider) who introduces him to a beautiful young teacher, Inge (Senta Berger). Whether by pure coincidence or otherwise, not long afterwards, Quiller is drugged, picked up by the Nazis and taken to their Reichsfuhrer — Oktober (Max von Sydow).
Despite being ruthlessly and relentlessly interrogated, Oktober is unable to break Quiller’s steely resolve. Such is his fury and frustration over time wasted and with not one scrap of information gleaned in return, he orders Quiller’s death, but, by some miracle, Quiller finds himself still alive, albeit half drowned at the edge of a canal. Clearly, his life had been spared on this occasion — more useful alive, in Oktober’s thinking, for leading them to Quiller’s own local control.
After outwitting Oktober’s henchmen, Quiller goes back to visit Inge, who on this occasion, offers to help him via a friend of her father who knows a ‘contact’ — a contact who just happens to be the headmistress of Inge's school. She is able to lead Quiller alongside the canal towards a large, derelict looking house — Oktober's base.
On thoroughly checking out the house, Quiller discovers Oktober waiting, which begs the question as to whether or not he had been expected. In the cellar Quiller finds Inge being held captive. When Oktober tells him of his plan to relocate the following day, Quiller knows that such valuable information is useless unless it can be relayed to his control before they move. Conscious of this, Oktober allows Quiller to go free, but on one condition: that he must return before dawn and reveal the location of his control, or both he and Inge, who is to remain as hostage, will be killed.
Outside, it soon becomes apparent, that Quiller is hopelessly outnumbered by a posse of Oktober's men. In a final desperate attempt to reach his control, he decides to use his car, but discovers a bomb attached underneath. However, he uses this to his full advantage by finding a way of detonating the device as a means of staging his own fatality. It works a treat. The explosion is witnessed and his apparent ‘death’ is reported back to Oktober.
On returning to Pol, Quiller is able to report a successfully completed mission. Thanks to information received, a totally unsuspecting neo-Nazi operation is then rounded up before it has chance to move on. Surprisingly, there was no mention of a girl involved, and just to compound the mystery, when Quiller returns to the school, Inge is found teaching there as usual, ensconced in her classroom, as if nothing untoward had ever happened. Brief non-committal words are exchanged before a puzzled Quiller leaves and passes the headmistress, who hesitates only momentarily before walking past him without a word.
The sixties was a particularly frenetic period in the life of John Barry and the year of 1966 was no exception. After having already scored The Wrong Box, Born Free, The Chase and The Whisperers, he was busily writing songs for a musical version of Brighton Rock (with some well-meaning yet unwanted assistance from author Graham Greene), when he received a call from producer Ivan Foxwell, who was headhunting him for The Quiller Memorandum.
Theme songs were very much in vogue in the film world during this period and with Barry leading the way and basking in the spotlight following his extremely fruitful collaboration with Matt Monro's on Born Free, it came as no surprise when Monro was once again asked to perform similar duties for Quiller.
However, Barry’s choice of lyricist was by no means as predictable when he caused something of a surprise in approaching Mack David to collaborate with him. Although clearly a famous lyricist — he had already penned the words to Patti Page’s ‘I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine’ and The Shirelles’ ‘Baby, It’s You’, for example — he was probably not as well-known as his younger brother Hal, especially in the UK at that time. When asked about his choice of lyricist, Barry suggested that the partnership had simply fallen into place; a case of Mack “being in town (London) at the time so it seemed a good idea to ask him.”
The result of this first collaboration, ‘Wednesday's Child’, was recorded by Matt Monro, at Abbey Road Studio 2 on Friday 7th October 1966 in one afternoon session with George Martin producing, Geoff Emerick engineering, John Barry conducting and David, together with producer Foxwell, watching from the control room. Five complete takes were recorded, the last of which was chosen as the master. Monro also tackled ‘When You Become A Man’ and ‘Where In The World’, arranged and conducted by Ken Thorne & George Martin respectively, during this four-hour session, with the former subsequently chosen as the B-side to accompany ‘Wednesday’s Child’ when released as a single in the UK. In the USA, however, another song, ‘The Lady Smiles’, recorded at Capitol Studios, New York City on 11th November, was preferred.
The Barry/Mack David partnership spawned two other songs, both of which remain clouded in mystery. Barry, himself, had no recollection whatsoever of writing a song entitled ‘Sleep Well My Darling’ even though an instrumental version did emerge and issued as the flip side to Barry’s own CBS single of ‘Wednesday’s Child’. To compound the puzzle, there remains no trace of a vocal version ever being recorded. Nevertheless, as Barry was known to make demo versions of his songs for producers and directors alike, using vocalists such as Johnny De little and Malcolm Roberts, it is quite feasible that it was once demonstrated but later rejected. Clearly, Barry liked it sufficiently enough in instrumental form.
The third song by this dynamic duo, entitled ‘The Mask’, was even more enigmatic. Although registered for copyright on the same day as ‘Sleep Well’, that appears to be as far as it went, since no other information has ever come to light. Curiously, John Barry & Mack David never wrote together again either, although Barry teamed up with brother Hal for two memorable Bond songs, plus ‘The Good Times are Comin’’, sung by Mama Cass for the film, Monte Walsh.
Whereas Monro completed his contribution at Abbey Road, the score, itself, was recorded at Barry’s favourite studio, CTS Bayswater, with John Richards engineering. Sessions were held between the 3rd and 11th October, with Barry’s regular fixer, Sid Margo, selecting an orchestra from his regular pool of talented musicians. For example, bass guitarist Ron Prentice played on the recording just a few weeks after performing similar duties for Barry on ‘The Whisperers’.
Barry conceded to writer Eddi Fiegel in 1998 that the musical direction of the film was shaped by a conversation he had shared with screenplay writer Harold Pinter during production: “I’d spoken to Harold, and he threw me into doing this innocent childlike thing which goes totally against the picture. For him it was all about the indoctrination of youth — how you created young Nazis. And there were all those sequences in the film showing lines of kids coming out of the school. So I said, ‘Let’s play this innocence up against this possibly recurring nightmare,’ and I wrote that melody that was based on an eighteenth-century European lullaby. I just went right against the picture. Even when the guy’s in the phone booth and gets shot, you still had this gentle melody running, and I think it worked beautifully. It gave the film a haunting, dramatic quality which kept it together.”
In another interview, Barry added, “I was asked to do Quiller because it was essentially an espionage picture and, as such, I wanted to do something that was not typical in terms of what I had been doing. As it was set in Berlin I went back in time and wrote a mid-European waltz and then played it against the picture. It worked surprisingly well because it wasn't typical for that kind of movie.”
Just prior to the release of Quiller, Barry told Robert Ottaway of The Daily Sketch, that what convinces him to tackle any film project is always the quality of the script. “If the set-up smells right, and I can respond to the story, I will take it on.” He concluded by stressing just how much pleasure he derived from leading and harnessing an orchestra. Producer Foxwell told Ottaway that Barry was chosen for his musicality.
On finishing Quiller, Barry was aiming to abandon film scoring for the foreseeable future, on account of his commitment to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, which he was determined to complete. He also announced his intention of limiting himself to accepting only one or two film scores per year, so that any spare capacity could be reserved for revitalising English musical theatre, which he had described as flaccid. Of course history shows he took a very different path. The musical Brighton Rock would take another forty years to polish off and within a matter of weeks he was already working with Leslie Bricusse on the theme song for You Only Live Twice!
The Matt Monro single was released in October and earned a Top-Fifty tip from Record Mirror. “Slow meaningful ballad, dreamily backed with Matt doing his usual top class vocal performance. Good lyrics and superlative phrasing. May not be a big hit but should make the 50,” was its verdict. Other versions of ‘Wednesday’s Child’, both vocal and instrumental, were also recorded and released by acts as diverse as The Ray Conniff Orchestra, The Mike Hurst Orchestra, Tony Osborne and Ronnie Aldrich & His Two Pianos.
A soundtrack LP was also released by CBS and Columbia (in the UK and USA respectively), housed in different artwork, and, in 1988, soundtrack specialist label Varese Sarabande released the album on CD for the first and only time — until now, that is.
As to the film itself, premières took place in the UK and US on 10 November & 15 December 1966 respectively. Although not a huge commercial success, it was well-received by some critics and nominated for BAFTAs in three categories. Harold Pinter also received an Edgar Allan Poe nomination.
Geoff Leonard & Pete Walker, July 2012
Critical appreciation and track commentary
There are certain composer–genre pairings which have come to be regarded as classic: Ennio Morricone and the ‘Spaghetti’ western; Lalo Schifrin and the edgy-but-cool Warner Brothers action movie; Jerry Goldsmith and modernist science fiction opus; and John Williams and the modern swashbuckling hero. Among the most famous of these pairings is John Barry, the most exciting and bankable name in British film music of the 1960s, and that era’s secret agent genre.
The Quiller Memorandum clearly belongs to that classic set of sixties John Barry spy scores, but how significant is it really? Well, Barry’s sharp-toothed yet spacious James Bond scores had defined the music standard for the more escapist variant of the spy film. His significant influence on the ‘anti-Bond’ brand of spy film, however — the more serious and low-key yarn — is pretty much defined in just two films: The Ipcress File (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Michael Caine as Len Deighton’s cynical agent Harry Palmer; and Quiller. That lays a lot at the foot of each and while The Ipcress File might be the better remembered, in many ways, Quiller is equally if not more daring than its predecessor.
Barry’s music in this case responds to a film which sits somewhere between Bond and Ipcress, albeit closer to Ipcress, in style. Segal’s Quiller is more sexually attractive than Harry Palmer was. His character is a little more romanticised, better dressed and more prone to a car chase and a fist fighting escape. The subject matter, however, is certainly darker than Bond. The idea of a neo-Nazi organization with deep and expanding roots in Berlin society — where members may already be in influential positions including positions to secretly indoctrinate the young — is a deeply troubling idea which would have been particularly sensitive in 1966, still relatively close to the end of the war. Pinter’s writing, especially his celebrated dialogue, adds an element of wit and light relief; and the combination of that writing with the performances of Alec Guinness and Max Von Sydow bring a delicious gentlemanliness to both Oktober and Pol. The noted dialogue writing doesn’t particularly influence Barry’s score, but Quiller’s persona and the sinister shadow of the enemy organization do. So does another key stylistic element in the film — its old dark houses and empty streets, which inspire a certain ghostly quality in Barry’s music.
If John Barry had a defining approach in his 1960s work, it was to lead his scores from a lucid, memorable, long-lined theme. Using the melody-and-bridge structure of the classic Broadway show tune, his themes tended to be richly expressed in fresh and dynamic arrangements whilst being sufficiently demure that they would work from the most sombre to the most exciting moments of their film’s subject. That these themes encompassed both cinematic and commercial concerns so successfully is undoubtedly what helped make Barry such a big name so quickly.
In the case of The Quiller Memorandum, Barry’s lead theme simultaneously expresses that aforementioned ‘against-film’ innocence and the cold loneliness of the spy. It’s as sad as it is childlike — lonely and longing. At times, it is arranged for orchestra with such distinctive instruments as the flexaton and cymbalom in key parts. At others, it is arranged for mellow, echoing, room-filling flutes.
There are two key secondary themes to watch out for as the score unfolds. The first, the ‘Quiller followed’ theme if you will, is an addictive, teasing fifteen-note ostinato. Some of the film’s unreleased score uses this theme. (Early scenes have Quiller being tailed, to this theme, by his as-yet unidentified cover man, Hengel.) The second, which we might call the ‘chase and fight’ theme is built on repetitions of a motif which is typical of Barry’s genius of simplicity — five jittery low notes answered by five longer, more shrill high notes.
Like several of John Barry’s 1960s scores (The Knack springs to mind, as does The Ipcress File and Petulia) the original soundtrack album of The Quiller Memorandum is not a complete and chronological representation of the music in the film but contains most of the material and makes for a classic soundtrack album. Most of the unreleased music repeats thematic material already represented on the album and what doesn’t amounts to only a few minutes. While the inclusion of these remaining cues would certainly have been nice (there are a couple of particularly broody cues among the scenes of Quiller’s initial capture — and these are sorely missed), there is nevertheless a near perfect symmetry to the album as it is.
1. Wednesday’s Child—Main Theme
Unusually, the album opens with neither the film’s main title nor its song, but this up-beat instrumental version. Opening in the style of the barrel organ, it shows off the fullest and most dynamic interpretation of the theme. This track is not actually heard in the film as-is, but gets the album off to an engaging and energetic start.
2. Quiller Caught—The Fight
By the time this music is heard, Quiller has already made himself known to his enemies. Calculating that he needs to provoke a confrontation with the enemy to get a break through in the case, he repeatedly shakes his cover man, Hengel (presumably Quiller fears that if his cover man is seen, the enemy will not come forward), and openly approaches people linked with the fragmented artefacts left by his predecessor, Kenneth Lindsay Jones. His enquiries, presented with obviously false cover stories, have been designed to be provocative. The ‘Quiller Caught’ cue opens as the enemy responds. Quiller, who has been covertly injected by a seemingly clumsy concierge, is tailed in his car to the sounds of the ‘followed’ theme. The music slows up and becomes sleepy as Quiller stops at lights and starts to lose grip on his consciousness. His captors enter his car and a variation of the main theme overlays the returning ‘followed’ ostinato as Quiller is driven away.
A short while later in the film, ‘The Fight’ finds Quiller in the secret, old-house headquarters of Oktober. Haunting, mellow flutes take the lead as Quiller’s captors prepare to drug him, before the score’s ‘chase-and-fight’ theme bursts in to accompany Quiller’s desperate, energetic but futile attempt to escape.
3. The Barrel Organ
Used as source music in the film, this track represents the main theme purely in the style of a barrel organ. Whether or not a real barrel organ was used on the recording is not definitively documented, but it seems most likely the effect would have been created from similar sounding percussion instruments. This arrangement provides an interesting perspective on the theme, driving it forward yet still expressing the coldness of the scenario. In the context of an album program, its placement here seems to serve as a useful mid-side ‘pick-me-up’ between the more moody score cues.
4. Oktober—Walk From The River
Back to Quiller’s capture and the interrogation sequence, Barry’s hypnotic flute ostinato, doubled with repeating sustain-and-release brass figures, cues in as a truth serum injection nearly causes Quiller to give away the recognition code for the agent network in Berlin. The interrogation intensifies as Quiller nearly falters but he wins his mental fight to hold strong. Seemingly frustrated, Oktober orders the helpless spy to be drugged again and, when asleep, killed. The music then switches to a mellow rendition of Quiller’s theme, which mirrors his relief and exhaustion as he wakes up dumped at the bank of a river that same night. The tone turns cold again as he realises he’s being tailed by Oktober’s men (presumably, they assume Quiller will lead them to the agent’s base in Berlin) before the fight theme scores Quiller’s sudden escape and brief car chase in a stolen taxi. This time the theme ends with a tumultuous Bond-like exclamation as the car pursuit dramatically ends in Quiller’s favour.
We travel back to an earlier point in the film, where Quiller is still making his presence known. One of Jones’ unexplained artefacts is a bowling alley ticket. As Quiller visits the bowling alley, this arrangement of Tony Hatch’s popular tune plays as source music.
6. Main Title Theme
Closing what was originally Side One of the album is the film’s opening title music. A colder, more haunting interpretation of the Quiller theme, it accompanies titles which take place over a deserted Berlin street at night. A lone figure walks nervously towards a telephone box. As the title concludes, the figure, whose identity is later revealed as Kenneth Lindsay Jones, is shot before he can make his telephone call.
7. Wednesday’s Child
Songs were a common accompaniment to a John Barry score of this era, sometimes to be used over credits and sometimes to create a commercial music tie-in with promotional airplay. This song version of the Quiller theme clearly takes its cue from Quiller’s lost romance with Inge, the school teacher met near the beginning of the film — and references the popular nursery rhyme, “Monday’s child is fair of face,” etc. It is heard in the film as source music when Quiller, exhausted after his escape from Oktober, arrives at a cheap hotel.
8. The Love Scene—The Old House
Later in the film — having escaped Oktober’s men and revealing the nothing he’s really discovered to Pol — Quiller romantically approaches Inge and they make love. A warm and romantic interpretation of the theme underpins the dialogue afterwards, in which Inge reveals that one of her father’s friends was once connected with Oktober’s group. On setting up a meeting, this friend is able to reveal the identity of someone who knows precisely where Oktober’s base is currently located — Inge’s headmistress! They drive to the old house together, all seemingly allied with Quiller’s mission. Quiller insists on entering the house alone and Barry’s cold, ghostly music for Oktober recurs before Quiller is taken by surprise by Oktober’s hoods.
9. Autobahn March
This invigorating military march does not appear in the film. It can only be assumed from the title that it was imagined for some autobahn scene and, once again, seems to serve as a mid-side interlude in the program.
10. He Knows The Way Out
During Quiller’s return visit to Oktober’s house, he is once again captured and Inge is brought in, seemingly also captive. This is where Oktober offers Quiller the ultimatum of revealing his Berlin base in order to spare his and Inge’s lives. This opening of the cue imbues an expectant ‘prelude-to-something’, leading to a more open rendition of the theme as Quiller finds himself in the same street we saw in the film’s opening credits — the one where Jones died.
11. Night Walk In Berlin
Followed and obstructed from making any use of public telephones, Quiller notices a metro train in the near distance. He makes a well-timed dash for it (cue the chase and fight theme), then feigns a boarding, which causes Oktober’s men to chase the train in their car. Quiller exits the station only to find his ruse was unsuccessful, since he is still being followed. A slower, more resigned version of the ‘followed’ theme cues in. The theme perks up and doubles up with that variation of the Quiller theme (the same as in ‘Quiller Caught’) as Quiller is tailed through the dawn back to his cheap hotel.
12. Quiller and the Bomb
With seeming laxness on the part of Oktober’s men, Quiller is able to sneak his way to his car, parked in the hotel garage. On noticing wire, however, he checks and discovers a bomb. This cue, reminiscent of that excellent tension-builder ‘The Laser Beam’ from Goldfinger, accompanies Quiller’s tense quest to unlink the bomb. Barry adds layers on tension one at a time leading up an explosion of Quiller’s design, which convinces Quiller’s captors he has been killed.
13. Have You Heard Of A Man Called Jones? — End Title
With Oktober’s gang rounded up, Quiller returns to Inge’s school. There are clearly embers of love between them, but was she the innocent outsider who fell in love with Quiller? Or was she the black widow meant to lead him to his death? Could she even have been a bit of both? Barry’s mournful epilogue begins as Quiller wraps up his brief exchange of words, the music building as he leaves — doubts and suspicions left unanswered — into one last full expression of the theme as the credits roll.
Stephen Woolston, July 2012